Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Redford|
|Produced by||Ronald L. Schwary|
|Screenplay by||Alvin Sargent|
|Based on||Ordinary People|
by Judith Guest
Mary Tyler Moore
|Music by||Marvin Hamlisch|
|Edited by||Jeff Kanew|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$90 million|
The story concerns the disintegration of an upper-middle class family in Lake Forest, Illinois, following the accidental death of one of their two sons and the attempted suicide of the other. The screenplay by Alvin Sargent was based upon the 1976 novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest.
The film received six Academy Awards nominations and won four: the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director for Redford, Adapted Screenplay for Sargent, and Supporting Actor for Hutton. In addition, it won five Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director (Redford), Best Actress in a Drama (Tyler Moore), Best Supporting Actor (Hutton), and Best Screenplay (Sargent).
The Jarretts are an upper-middle-class family in suburban Chicago trying to return to normal life after the accidental death of their older teenage son, Buck, and the attempted suicide of their younger and surviving son, Conrad. Conrad, who has recently returned home from a four-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, feels alienated from his friends and family and begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger. Berger learns that Conrad was involved in the sailing accident that took the life of Buck, whom everyone idolized. Conrad now deals with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt.
Conrad's father, Calvin, tries to connect with his surviving son and understand his wife. Conrad's mother, Beth, denies her loss, hoping to maintain her composure and restore her family to what it once was. She appears to have loved her older son more, and because of the suicide attempt, has grown cold toward Conrad. She is determined to maintain the appearance of perfection and normalcy. Conrad works with Dr. Berger and learns to try to deal with, rather than control, his emotions. He starts dating a fellow student, Jeannine, who helps him to begin to regain a sense of optimism. Conrad, however, still struggles to communicate and re-establish a normal relationship with his parents and schoolmates, including Stillman, with whom he gets into a fist fight. He cannot seem to allow anyone, especially Beth, to get close. Beth makes several guarded attempts to appeal to Conrad for some semblance of normality, but she ends up being cold towards him.
Mother and son often argue while Calvin tries to referee, generally taking Conrad's side for fear of pushing him over the edge again. Things come to a climax near Christmas, when Conrad becomes furious at Beth for not wanting to take a photo with him, swearing at her in front of his grandparents. Afterward, Beth discovers Conrad has been lying about his after-school whereabouts. This leads to a heated argument between Conrad and Beth in which Conrad points out that Beth never visited him in the hospital, saying that she "would have come if Buck was in the hospital." Beth replies, "Buck never would have been in the hospital!" Beth and Calvin take a trip to see Beth's brother in Houston, where Calvin confronts Beth, calling her out on her attitude.
Conrad suffers a setback when he learns that Karen, a friend of his from the psychiatric hospital, has committed suicide. A cathartic breakthrough session with Dr. Berger allows Conrad to stop blaming himself for Buck's death and accept his mother's frailties. Calvin, however, emotionally confronts Beth one last time. He questions their love and asks whether she is capable of truly loving anyone. Stunned, Beth decides to leave her family rather than deal with her own, or their, emotions. Calvin and Conrad are left to come to terms with their new family situation.
- Donald Sutherland as Calvin Jarrett
- Mary Tyler Moore as Beth Jarrett
- Judd Hirsch as Dr. Tyrone C. Berger
- Timothy Hutton as Conrad Jarrett
- Elizabeth McGovern as Jeannine Pratt
- M. Emmet Walsh as Coach Salan
- Dinah Manoff as Karen Aldrich
- Fredric Lehne as Joe Lazenby
- James B. Sikking as Ray Hanley
- Basil Hoffman as Sloan
- Quinn Redeker as Ward
- Mariclare Costello as Audrey
- Meg Mundy as Grandmother
- Elizabeth Hubbard as Ruth
- Adam Baldwin as Kevin Stillman
- Richard Whiting as Grandfather
- Tim Clarke as Truan
- Scott Doebler as Jordan "Buck" Jarrett (in flashback)
Ordinary People garnered four Oscars for 1980, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. The picture, Robert Redford's debut at directing, won him the Academy Award for Best Director. Alvin Sargent won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Timothy Hutton won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in his first film role (he had previously appeared on television).
The film marked Mary Tyler Moore's career breakout from the personality of her other two famous roles as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Moore's complex performance as the mother to Hutton's character was well-received and obtained a nomination for Best Actress. Donald Sutherland's performance as the father was also well received, and he was nominated for a Golden Globe Award. He was not nominated for an Academy Award along with his co-stars, however, which Entertainment Weekly has described as one of the worst acting snubs in the history of the Academy Awards.
Judd Hirsch's portrayal of Dr. Berger was a departure from his work on the sitcom Taxi, and drew praise from many in the psychiatric community as one of the rare times their profession is shown in a positive light in film. Hirsch was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor, losing out to co-star Hutton. Additionally, Ordinary People launched the career of Elizabeth McGovern who played Hutton's character's love interest, and who received special permission to film while attending Juilliard.
Ordinary People received critical acclaim. Roger Ebert gave it a full four stars and praised how the film's setting "is seen with an understated matter-of-factness. There are no cheap shots against suburban lifestyles or affluence or mannerisms: The problems of the people in this movie aren't caused by their milieu, but grow out of themselves. [...] That's what sets the film apart from the sophisticated suburban soap opera it could easily have become." He later named it the fifth best film of the year 1980. Gene Siskel ranked it the second best film of 1980. Vincent Canby writing for The New York Times called it "a moving, intelligent and funny film about disasters that are commonplace to everyone except the people who experience them." On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 89%, based on 47 reviews, with an average rating of 7.93/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Though shot through with bitterness and sorrow, Robert Redford's directorial debut is absorbing and well-acted."
- "25 Biggest Oscar Snubs Ever: Donald Sutherland, Ordinary People". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- Martin, Linda B. (25 January 1981). "The Psychiatrist in Today's Movies: He's Everywhere and He's in Deep Trouble". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 September 2006.
- Ebert, Roger (1 January 1980). "Ordinary People review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
- "Siskel and Ebert Top Ten Lists (1969-1998)". innermind.com. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
- Canby, Vincent (19 September 1980). "Redford's Ordinary People". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 October 2018.
- "Ordinary People (1980)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 14 July 2019.
- Ordinary People at Box Office Mojo
- Watkins, Roger (April 29, 1981). "CIC Sights a $235-Mil Global Windfall". Variety. p. 3.
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